According to an IFOP poll conducted on 13 May for the ALL4PACK 2020 trade show, consumer expectations for packaging are high: 81% of those surveyed said they preferred products requiring less packaging before the coronavirus pandemic and a majority of them - 60% - have not changed their behaviour in spite of the global crisis. There seems to be a definite trend calling for radical change in the industry and for packaging that is easier to recycle or reusable. The same poll showed that 61% of those surveyed would like companies to devote more of their resources to designing sustainable packaging.
We have been aware of this for some time and the strength of feeling has had an impact on our policies. The French law on circular economies passed in February of this year states that non-recyclable packaging will be banned by 2030. It applies to all materials and should be implemented across the whole of the European Union within the next few months. Ambitious objectives to increase packaging recycling rates have been set, as well as goals for using recycled materials to make new packaging. Incorporating recycled raw materials could also become a condition for marketing certain products. To achieve all these objectives, a five-year reduce, reuse and recycle (three Rs) plan will be set out by decree for the 2021-2025 period, and will be reviewed in five years’ time.
The alarm has sounded, it’s time to wake up to the packaging revolution!
It is clear that consumers are more and more demanding: they want packaging that is easier to use and easier to open and close, but they also want packaging that is more eco- friendly, 100% recyclable, biodegradeable and reuseable. All the studies are unanimous on the importance of these two areas with scores of close to 100%, indicating that it can no longer be considered a packaging trend - it has become an imperative. The packaging of the future must be more functional and more eco-friendly. Anyone who thinks that another trend could dethrone this consumer concern would be mistaken. There is no turning back.
The coronavirus pandemic: a time for change
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of packaging’s raison d’être. Without containers, ensuring food safety and consuming and distributing certain products would simply not be possible! The French Prime Minister made this very point to parliament on 19 March. The industry plays a vital role and has proved essential for food distribution and keeping key sectors afloat. A survey carried out by Elipso (plastic packaging manufacturers' association) in early April confirms that half of all supermarket food packaging suppliers have seen an increase in activity since the start of the pandemic.
So yes, packaging is useful. After years of repeated attacks and the restrictive legislation currently being put in place, the lessons of the coronavirus crisis have helped restore packaging’s image. Lest we forget, the phrase “the best packaging is no packaging” is still all the rage. To which the packaging industry can now reply: “No pack, no snack”!
A trend that’s stronger than coronavirus
It would be wrong to think that this crisis will reverse consumers’ strong preference for less packaging in any meaningful way and or that it will dampen their strong desire for more sustainable solutions.
Although this unprecedented crisis is forcing us to use single-use packaging and to incinerate a large amount of contaminated resources, the pandemic will not signal the end of the three Rs! Reduce, reuse and recycle remain key objectives for sustainable packaging after the coronavirus crisis.
Rather than trying to roll back the regulatory advances announced at the beginning of the year, the packaging sector should take the opportunity to emerge from this crisis stronger. It should use it as a chance to reinvent itself, by stating that it is safer, offering greater protection, but also ecodesigned to avoid any kind of waste, for both the container and its contents. Let’s hope that this will help finally change the way people see packaging and the image of a sector that is also worthy of praise from time to time.
A number of companies have already joined the revolution, each with their own beliefs and solutions. Innovations are springing up all over the world. La Révolution de l’emballage (Packaging leads its revolution), is a new white paper that will be published in the autumn as part of the next ALL4PACK Paris packaging trade show. It will detail and explain various emerging solutions that will ensure that packaging will be even more efficient and environmentally friendly in the future.
By Fabrice Peltier, designer and creative and ecodesign consultant